Friday, November 22, 2019

Book Review: Life Signs by Henri Nouwen

The concepts Henri Nouwen wrote of in the chapter “Intimacy and Love” spoke right into the journey of healing I am on personally.  I was particularly struck by his statement that “we are so possessed by fear that we do not trust our innermost self as an intimate place, anxiously wandering around hoping to find it where we are not.”  He includes the explanation that as a result, people become strangers to themselves and he quipped, “as if they have an address, but are never home,” and thus are never able to answer the call to love.

After a series of personal crises, I began protecting myself by abandoning my inner space of intimacy, which had been violated, and I moved “to the outdoors” of my life.  I could keep the outside manicured and well-groomed, outdoing my neighbors and getting the proper rewards.  Staying outdoors provided stability and predictability.  My life was lodged in the cognitive where I could use reason and effort to maintain some semblance of control and order.  

Meanwhile, the interior of the house filled with cobwebs, was darkened and visited rarely by myself or those in relationship with me.  Thus, I rarely was in communion with others.  I definitely was well-entrenched into a state of mistrust and fear of my innermost self and not just because I had been wounded there. In the collapse of my own defenses, I had participated in my own injury:  I was not to be trusted with myself.

Being outdoors worked as long as the external world answered to my demands, but I became increasingly aware of the danger if the external world failed me.  I knew I was going to have to re-visit the rich and vast rooms of my own “interior castle.”  It was through the call to unconditional love, having to first give it and later receive it, that I realized I was going to have to re-enter.  

Nouwen’s concept stood out as I realized a language describing my personal recovery, although I would like to challenge some of the language the author used.  “Jesus creates the space to freely move around without fear, transcending feelings, emotions and passions.”  I would rather think of Jesus moving “through” feelings, emotions and passions instead of going “beyond” them.  Going beyond seems to indicate other-worldliness, which would be a favorite pastime of mine:  trying to remove myself from the reality of pain and suffering and risk-taking.  I like to think Jesus can embrace the intimate (and painful) parts of humanity and work and heal in light of them, independent of them, yet present with them.

Oh, to help people find their inner space, the place where Jesus can find them and get a call to them.  There is much to be modeled, said and taught about the impact of the busyness of today, the hurriedness of the day and the restlessness of the night.  The Lord Jesus has created a protective space around those he loves, but we fill it with the activities of daily living and do not use it to join him in that space.  Instead, we fill it with our works, hoping they will represent us in our stead.  Jesus is not interested in being close to our deeds and actions, he is interested in us.

I have been teaching an adult Sunday School class on spiritual disciplines and often we stop and create safe harbor in our learning.  I encourage them to find themselves in God’s word and God’s word in themselves.  Whether we reflect on God’s word, on the presence of God in fresh-baked cookies or explore the deeper meaning of our testimony, they get a taste of that inner space.  I pray it makes them hungry to spend more time there.

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